What to watch for in the 2015 NBA playoffs

David Friedman Columnist

By David Friedman, David Friedman is a Roar Expert

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    The 2015 NBA playoffs began with two quadruple-headers this weekend and today I’ll focus on some players, trends and situations worth following as the 16 teams are reduced to one champion.

    I posted my 2015 NBA playoff predictions the day before the action started.

    The playoffs will show who is really ‘most valuable’
    The MVP race has inspired much commentary this season. Should the MVP be the best player on the best team, the player who means the most to his team or the player who outperforms all others in a given ‘advanced’ statistical category?

    Commentators cannot even agree about which criteria to favour, let alone how to rank the contenders when using a given standard.

    So much of the talk about selecting the MVP involves speculation, making assumptions about how various players would perform on different teams with different teammates. How about looking at what really matters?

    The MVP should be good enough to lift a reasonably good and reasonably healthy supporting cast into championship contention – and championship contention should not just mean winning a lot of regular season games before making a quick exit from the playoffs.

    MVP-calibre players who have at least a decent supporting cast do not tend to lose in the first round of the playoffs very often. Magic Johnson lost in the first round of the playoffs twice in 13 years, first in his injury-shortened second season and then in his comeback season after sitting out for five years.

    Michael Jordan started his career with three straight first round losses before the Chicago Bulls surrounded him with some more talent. He never lost in the first round again, though he did miss the playoffs entirely during his second comeback from ages 38-39.

    This season, Russell Westbrook did not have enough help to even make the playoffs. Anthony Davis does not have enough help to go very far in the playoffs. However, the other players most often mentioned as MVP candidates – Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, Chris Paul – all have good teams. Those players should make deep playoff runs that last unless or until they face one another, but I suspect that neither Harden nor Paul will make it to the Conference Finals.

    Watch out for San Antonio and the San Antonio clones
    The defending champion San Antonio Spurs started off slowly but then put together a string of blowout wins to move all the way up to second place in the West. A final game loss to New Orleans sent the Spurs down to the sixth seed but the Spurs are healthy just in time and seem poised to make another long post-season run.

    Meanwhile, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has two proteges who are making their presence felt on the sidelines. Former San Antonio player Steve Kerr led Golden State to 67 wins, while former San Antonio assistant coach Mike Budenholzer guided the Atlanta Hawks to 60 wins.

    The San Antonio way appears to be that there is no one San Antonio way. Over the years, depending on their personnel and the match-ups, the Spurs have been a post-up team, a drive and kick team, a methodical team and an uptempo team.

    Popovich, like four-time Super Bowl champion coach Bill Belichick, figures out the best way for his team to play, as opposed to forcing his players to fit in with a predetermined system. Kerr and Budenholzer have taken the same approach with their respective teams.

    The Conference Finals round could be dominated by San Antonio-themed subplots

    Chris Paul needs to do more or be talked about less
    Isiah Thomas was drafted by an awful Detroit team but within a few years the Pistons stood atop the NBA. Thomas-led teams bested Larry Bird’s Celtics, Michael Jordan’s Bulls and Magic Johnson’s Lakers in playoff series en route to winning back-to-back championships.

    Chris Paul has, according to some people, been an MVP candidate since at least 2008. Paul has yet to reach the Conference Finals even once. He is not facing Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. He is paired with another MVP-calibre player.

    If Paul is as valuable as the ‘advanced’ numbers have been saying he is for years then he needs to show it when it matters most.

    There are many exciting subplots to the NBA playoffs but the three listed above will be particularly interesting to follow.

    David Friedman
    David Friedman

    David Friedman has covered the NBA for more than a decade, and in doing so, has interviewed nearly two dozen members of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List. You can find his work at 20SecondTimeout.

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    The Crowd Says (13)

    • April 20th 2015 @ 10:35am
      Swampy said | April 20th 2015 @ 10:35am | ! Report

      With regards to the MVP race, I might have to eat my words if Harden carries Houston like he did yesterday. For once the stats were not what you needed to see to understand his impact on the game. Curry stood up but without a doubt has an outstanding collection of team mates around him. If Davis understands that he can do in the first 3 quarters what he did in the last GS might be in a fight. Harden dispensed with the Mavs ruthlessly. I suspect Carlisle may need to go to the hack.

    • April 20th 2015 @ 11:31am
      Greg Taz said | April 20th 2015 @ 11:31am | ! Report

      Swampy, It looked to me as if Harden was helped by his team to the win over the Mavs? His shooting didn’t looking efficient but he distributed well. Got the hack? do you mean hack Howard/Smith and the other bigs? Not Harden surely? 15 of his 24 points came from his free throws.

      The Harden and Curry debate will go on until next year. I believe the team mates should be taken out of the equation. You could argue Harden’s right to the award through carrying the Rockets through injuries, but many people don’t see the effect Curry has on the Warriors and how much better he makes his team mates. Thompson is the big benefactor that is for sure, but we have not seen what Curry could do with his team without players missing through injury. Could he have got them to 55 plus wins like Harden did with the Rockets. Could Harden get his Rockets to 67 wins if there were alot less injuries?

      The voters of the MVP are the media and it is their job to watch as many games as possible so I am sure they have seen these two candidates play a lot of games this year. They will be good judges of who should win.

      • April 20th 2015 @ 1:11pm
        Swampy said | April 20th 2015 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

        Harden shot terribly but the Dallas team collapsed on him and Houston’s shooters made them pay. Harden dominated the flow of the game.

        Dwight was a non-factor on limited minutes so Dallas really focused on Harden and couldn’t contain him.

        And yes, I was referring to the hack Dwight & Smith.

        • Roar Guru

          April 20th 2015 @ 4:37pm
          Tony Loedi said | April 20th 2015 @ 4:37pm | ! Report

          I thought harden was relatively quite by his standards, and when Dwight was on the floor he looked dominant. I can’t see the Mavs getting back into this series.

        • April 20th 2015 @ 7:25pm
          Greg taz said | April 20th 2015 @ 7:25pm | ! Report

          I remember how bad the mavs perimeter defence was against gsw last time they played. Terrible!

    • April 20th 2015 @ 9:05pm
      Jack said | April 20th 2015 @ 9:05pm | ! Report

      I can happily say that the clippers have smached the spurs, And CP3 is living up to his reputation as possibly the best point guard of all time.

      • April 21st 2015 @ 2:00am
        the raven said | April 21st 2015 @ 2:00am | ! Report

        But we have seen this before, wouldn’t you say? CP has won a few playoff games in past playoffs and looked dominant, but he always wears down over the course of a long series. See Hornets-Spurs in 2008, Hornets-Lakers in 2011, Clippers-Grizzlies 2013, etc. It’s not a fluke that he has never made it past the second round. The smart money is still on the Clippers to lose in 6 or 7 games with CP flaming out in the series-clincher.

        The sports media hive mind loves to crown its favorites paper-champ, but the competition is to win playoff series and championships, not draw empty media praise. See also the “critically acclaimed” Nash and Phoenix Suns of 2005-2010.

        • April 21st 2015 @ 10:15am
          Jack said | April 21st 2015 @ 10:15am | ! Report

          If the spurs play like that again, LA can beat them with their subs. i expect the spurs to fire up for the next few games, but i tip clippers to win in 7. And we will see about CP wont we

    • April 20th 2015 @ 11:16pm
      express34texas said | April 20th 2015 @ 11:16pm | ! Report

      Harden was quiet by his standards, but he controlled HOU’s offense like normal. He still had 24 pts. and 11 assists. Only 4-11, but 24 pts. on 11 shots is amazing, as is .649 TS%.

      It is reasonable to assume a legit MVP candidate should be able to lift his team in the playoffs. However, the MVP is awarded for regular season success only. SA is a favorite by many and still a true contender. While Paul might be overrated by most and doesn’t deserve the MVP, if he loses to SA in the first round, that shouldn’t automatically disqualify him from winning the MVP if he really was deserving. If HOU beats DAL, they will have to play SA or LAC, so only 1 of those teams at most(don’t count DAL out just yet) will advance past the 2nd round. The West isn’t like the East. James has rightfully deserved at least a couple of his MVPs; however, he usually has 2 fairly weak series before the conf. finals. And even IND, who MIA met in the ECF, last year probably wouldn’t have made it out of the first round in the West.

      • April 21st 2015 @ 3:34pm
        ProfVonSchrodinger said | April 21st 2015 @ 3:34pm | ! Report

        “Only 4-11, but 24 pts. on 11 shots is amazing”

        It helps when you’re at the line 17 times.

        • April 22nd 2015 @ 12:40am
          express34texas said | April 22nd 2015 @ 12:40am | ! Report

          Yea, and what’s wrong with that? That’s a tremendous skill to have to get to the line so much. FTs are very easy shots. Getting to the line a lot gets the other team in foul trouble, plus you get in the bonus earlier where any off-ball or loose-ball foul results in FTs. Also, it allows your defense to get completely set.

          • April 26th 2015 @ 4:19pm
            pete bloor said | April 26th 2015 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

            But it’s not really 11 shots it’s 11 box score field goal attempts. At least 6 of those ft attempts were from attempted shots that weren’t recorded right.

            Still great but hardly aligned with the 11 shot characterisation

      • April 21st 2015 @ 6:21pm
        Greg taz said | April 21st 2015 @ 6:21pm | ! Report

        Come on we know chris paul wont be mvp. We also know as of this point of time he is not the best pg of all time. The steve nash comparison is very accurate.

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